The “Arkansas Roads and Bridges Funding Coalition” delivered the following Open Letter to the 2019 Arkansas General Assembly on February 6, 2019 regarding funding for Arkansas’ transportation infrastructure.
We are writing as a broad coalition of statewide organizations that strongly believe the quality of our roads directly impacts the quality of life in Arkansas. We are urging you to act to approve additional funding that will improve our roads and bridges and make them safer. We represent tens of thousands of Arkansans who want to travel on good state highways, county roads, bridges, and city streets. Thousands of people are waiting for you to take meaningful steps to address the fact that 25% of our roads are in failing condition.
No matter which district you represent, good roads mean business growth, access for tourists, and fewer hours sitting in traffic congestion each week. Our citizens want to be as connected by good and safe roads, as much as they are by the internet.
We understand that the general assembly has many pressing issues to deal with during the 2019 legislative session, but we can’t wait until the final days of the session to have a rushed discussion about such a critical issue. Hard working people in hundreds of communities across Arkansas are asking us to remind you that decisive action needs to be taken now to address the poor condition of many of our roads. County judges, mayors, city managers, school superintendents, and concerned leaders in your hometown want action taken now.
The longer we wait to repair crumbling roads and bridges, the more it will cost to do the work later. This isn’t our opinion, this is the simple reality of construction costs increasing annually. We have 765 bridges in Arkansas that are classified as structurally deficient, and that number will only continue to grow with more than 12,000 aging bridges in our state. Arkansas has 102,000 miles of roads and only 22,000 miles are eligible for federal aid. The burden to fix this problem is clearly on the state.
An independent audit, requested by legislators and conducted by Arkansas Legislative Audit, said $478 million is needed to bring state highways, county roads, bridges, and city streets up to safety standards, preserve the current system at a quality level, and increase capacity. Economists estimate that spending $478 million would generate $1.3 billion in economic activity and support the creation of more than 5,000 new jobs.
While Arkansas discusses new funding options, 14 nearby states have approved more than $37 billion in new highway funding in the past decade. In the past five years, seven southern states have raised or adjusted fuel taxes to make roads safer for their citizens. Don’t we owe the same quality roads to hard working Arkansas families? Aren’t we tired of hearing stories from drivers saying that when they drive into other states, they immediately notice the smoother ride?
Recent polling shows that your constituents believe something needs to be done about this growing problem. This poll indicates 90% of Arkansans feel our roads need repair, and 89% believe the work of improving roads is good for job creation. Of all households in our state, 51% say they are willing to pay between $1 and $10 dollars monthly to make our roads safer and better. If a thoughtful highway funding plan is developed, Arkansans will see what it means for their communities and support it.
In recent years the Arkansas Department of Transportation has conservatively managed taxpayer resources by increasing the percentage of budget spent on repairing existing roads. We think Arkansans respect taking care of what we have before spending on new roads. We also believe that most Arkansans don’t see the extension of a tax they are already paying as a new tax, rather they think of this as a reallocation of existing resources for a worthwhile effort.
If families are telling us they are willing to pay more for better roads, don’t we owe it to at least listen to them and bring this issue to the floor for a reasoned discussion? We respectfully ask you to address this issue soon. We understand your work is difficult, but we also believe it would be better to find meaningful funding now, rather than engage in a fragmented discussion every two years.
We know that $478 million is an ambitious goal, but let’s work together to get to a funding level that starts to realistically address the fact our roads are crumbling. We stand ready to work with you to remind our collective memberships, customers, constituencies, and communities why additional funding matters, and why the time is now.
Brad Fryar, American Traffic and Safety Services Association
Mark Hayes, Arkansas Municipal League
Chris Villines, Association of Arkansas Counties
Joe Quinn, Arkansas Good Roads Foundation
Joey Dean, Associated General Contractors
Shannon Newton, Arkansas Trucking Association
Bill Roachell, Associated Builders and Contractors
Randy Zook, Arkansas State Chamber / AIA
Park Estes, Arkansas Asphalt Paving Association
Marvin Childers, The Poultry Federation
Stanley Hill, Arkansas Farm Bureau
(For Additional Information, please contact Joe Quinn, Executive Director of the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation, at (479) 426-5931.)